Residents of the UK are urged to be vigilant as text scammers posing as NHS contact tracers have started spread. Charities and cybersecurity experts warned that the elderly and vulnerable people are likely to be tricked by these scams. Everyone, especially the elderly and vulnerable, should be cautious at all times before giving out personal information.
The UK National Cyber Security Centre (NCSC) confirmed its observation that several scams had appeared ever since the COVID-19 pandemic started. These bogus messages pretend to be from the National Health Service (NHS) Test and Trace programme, which intends to prevent the further spread of the coronavirus.
In May, the CTSI or Chartered Trading Standards Institute also identified bogus text messages claiming to be from the NHS contact tracers. The messages contained a website link that asked for personal identity information and bank account details.
The NCSC launched the Suspicious Email Reporting Service towards the end of April to help users flag and forward potential scam emails to the centre. It has since received over 600,000 messages, and the NCSC removed around a thousand of such emails in circulation.
Fraudsters are always looking for an opportunity to scam people amid the growing concerns related to the current health crisis. However, there are several ways to spot a fake message, which we will go through today.
The contact tracing process in England involves a text, email, or phone call from the NHS. For residents of Scotland, Northern Ireland, and Wales, contact tracers will get in touch through a phone call.
The NHS Test and Trace programme will only contact you for two reasons: one, you have tested positive for COVID-19, or two, if you came in contact with an individual who has tested positive for the coronavirus.
If your results came back positive, a contact tracer would reach out to you within 72 hours of having the test done. For phone calls, the only service number NHS will be using is 0300 013 5000. For texts, the sender should only be “NHStracing”, which is a protected sender ID.
You won’t be asked upfront for your personal information. Instead, you will be invited to log in to https://contact-tracing.phe.gov.uk using the unique numeric ID that will be provided to you beforehand. This web address is the only official NHS link explicitly dedicated to the test and trace service.
Once you input your ID, you will be requested to enter the necessary details about yourself, such as:
If you don’t have any way to open the link, a contact tracer will reach out via phone call, and you can relay your details to them directly.
If an unknown number calls you saying that you tested positive for COVID-19 yet you haven’t had any test done recently, that call is likely bogus.
The app that sends alerts if you come in contact with a coronavirus-positive user is still on trial in the Isle of Wight. If anyone invites you to download an app for contact tracing, do not take action because it might be another scamming tactic.
The NHS will reach out to you if you have ever met with or come in contact with a person with positive coronavirus results. You will be directed to self-isolate for fourteen (14) days. You will be guided on the do’s and don’ts, including the symptoms you need to observe and how to proceed if you develop the COVID-19 illness.
Once you receive correspondence from the NHS, they will never ask for personal information or bank details. Most importantly, they will never request you to provide information about other people you have come in contact with since that is only done for coronavirus-positive individuals.
If you have given away sensitive information like your payment and bank details, contact your respective bank immediately to protect your account. Regularly check your bank or card statements for any unknown charges or your credit report for new accounts under your name.
You can also contact Action Fraud online (www.actionfraud.police.uk) or call 0300 123 2040 to report any suspected breach of your personal information.